Sarnia taxpayers witnessed their council complete only about half a meeting Monday when Mayor Mike Bradley chose to shut down a tirade of personal accusations from Coun. Bill Dennis.
Dennis repeatedly criticized both the mayor and Greg McConkey, a member of the environmental advisory committee who was speaking to council about the federal carbon tax.
“Please calm down…please do not personalize this,” Bradley told Dennis before adjourning the meeting for five minutes, then finally ending it completely with a majority of council’s support.
In an unprecedented move, council left chambers without dealing with eight notices of motion, without approving the minutes, addressing routine approvals, civic reports or passing any bylaws.
The incident began when Dennis began telling McConkey why he disagrees with the carbon tax. The mayor interrupted saying that Dennis needed to wait for the debate that was to follow before expressing his opinion.
Dennis replied that the environmental advisory committee should never have been asked to weigh in.
“It’s like giving PETA a barbecue dinner,” he said. “…It’s almost unheard of to send a resolution of council to a special committee.
“Are you that desperate to defend your buddy in Ottawa? Are you that desperate to protect your friend, the worst prime minister in the history of Canada?” he challenged the mayor.
Bradley suggested that emails sent by Dennis to council recently were not appropriate.
“I’m asking you to have some respect for the chair and for your council colleagues,” he said, adding that it was a vote by council that sent the carbon tax question to the environmental advisory committee.
That set Dennis off.
“Everyone is left of (former Chinese Chairman) Mao on this council. Of course they’re going to refer it,” he said.
The mayor asked Dennis to calm down and not to personalize his comments to the presenter.
“Being the only one with common sense. I have to tell you it’s unbelievable,” Dennis replied.
“It’s got to be a heavy burden,” Bradley answered testily.
Dennis continued personally attacking Bradley, saying he “washed out in real estate in the early 80s.”
At that point, Coun. Anne Marie Gillis tried to intervene but Bradley said it was better to let Dennis continue.
“The public needs to see the real Bill Dennis Jr.,” he said.
That only escalated the exchange.
“The real Bill Dennis Jr. gave up half a million job in real estate to help save this city,” Dennis said. “It’s been circling the drain for 40 years. That’s why the real Bill Dennis came to do this.”
At that point, Bradley suggested adjourning the meeting.
“Is it because I’m going to reveal something about the lease at the Lambton Mall?” Dennis asked.
When Bradley said he was trying to conduct a civil meeting and that he’s given his life to Sarnia, Dennis chided, “Here come the tears.”
“You are destroying the chemistry of this council and this chamber,” Bradley said.
But Dennis continued. “(Former Coun.) Margaret Bird is here. Why don’t you ask her about the real Mike Bradley?” he said.
“I am so stunned,” Bradley answered.
He adjourned council for five minutes and, rather than resume business on their return, council voted to adjourn entirely for the day.
Coun. Brian White later said the mayor had been called away to see someone at the hospice and that his replacement to continue the meeting would have been Dennis, who is acting mayor when Bradley can’t be there this year.
White said he made the motion to adjourn because he didn’t feel “the meeting would have continued in a positive manner.”
After “the breakdown,” White said council couldn’t have “done justice” to the rest of the agenda.
“It’s incredibly distressing,” he said. “Our community depends on us to get our work done. Our job is to make decisions and all of the items on there are important.”
White called it a significant breakdown in democracy.
Both Dennis and McConkey confirmed to The Sarnia Journal that they continued to argue after the meeting in the foyer at city hall.
“He called me a leach and was swearing and pointing his finger at me,” McConkey said. “He was very upset about the situation but I wasn’t physically threatened in any way.”
McConkey said the two men have a personal history that goes back about five years and that played a part in the incident.
“I think Bill feels betrayed,” McConkey said. “I gave my presentation about carbon tax and I expected some pushback from him but he blew up.
“I didn’t expect that kind of explosive reaction.”
Dennis had no apologies although he regrets making his colleagues, city staff and those watching the meeting uncomfortable.
“I’ll be the first to admit I get very emotional, very passionate,” he said.
“I look at every meeting as though I’m heading into a football or baseball game and I take it very seriously.
“When I play, I play to win.”
Dennis said he and the mayor have not had a conversation in years and that a confrontation in council chambers was inevitable.
“I was wondering when this would happen,” he said. “He hasn’t treated me or my wife well for quite some time. There’s tension there.
“I feel like the mayor’s threatened by me. I feel he’s concerned I’m going to run for mayor because I probably will.”